In a tattooed world that is over-populated with photo-realism, repeated concepts and peony flowers (oh, how I pour disdain, tar and feathers on peony tattoos-the floral equivalent of finding a colony of wasps living in your car), when an artist comes along brandishing thought and excitement in a clean and tidy package, count me in. Winston the Whale-or Dave if you prefer-has been splashing in the waves of my radar for the best part of a year when, as luck would have it, I saw he was working a guest spot at The Circle on the very same day I would be passing by. Gift horse/mouth and all that. A call or two later, I squeezed myself into a hole in his schedule and sat down with the very tal ented and equally unassuming man that has been riding the wave of ‘internet sen sation’ for the best part of a year now...

For me, the roots of Dave’s 3D work go way back. It’s not only the simple 3D e.ect but the look and feel send me right back to the work of cartoonist Tex Avery. The generation gap suggests that isn’t so but that’s the feel I get. Perhaps it’s the spirit of the creation that comes through:
“There’s definitely a lot of 60s and 70s coming through in my work. I’ve always been drawn to the older cartoons. Felix the Cat is a big one but you can come right up to include Animaniacs as well. On TV there would be reruns of that stu. all the time - cartoons have always been my ‘thing’. They always make me feel good but you know, I can’t stand this new 3D animation shit. It totally loses it for me. It kills all the things I love about cartoons, like hard black lines and flat colours.” This style of tattooing is not for everyone and I wonder if Dave can put his finger on why his clients have become his clients. Was there an ever pressing need for something left-field like this that nobody had stumbled upon before?

“Well only because I put myself out there and did it. Naturally, a lot of requests you get as a tattoo artist are for what you’re currently doing, so people see that I did a space age ray-gun and guess what, the requests come in for me to do a ray-gun. With the 3D tattoos though, I really wanted it to keep it true to the throwback style-to resonate with the nostalgia of the 3D magazines.”

Do they work with the glasses on?
“Well they definitely look trippy with the glasses on but to get yourself a true anaglyph image requires a flat neutral background which you don’t get with skin because of the contours. It really needs to lie flat and also there’s a third layer in the middle and I guess you could do that with the tattoo but it would be way more tedious than the process I actually use-which is basically doing two stencils and overlapping them. It’s a whole formula that’s way more technical than I realised when I started doing them. “This guy from Seattle asked me to do it and I figured I’d give it a try-so it wasn’t really my idea I guess-but it looked really cool and I dropped it up on Instagram and that’s how the whole thing got started. Then I started down the road of seeing if I could create a real 3D tattoo that actually pops, but it’s way more complicated than I realised-it’s just... I don’t know, maybe it’s possible but you’d have to get into colour matching for it to react properly with the gels in the glasses, so if you used a slightly di.erent red or blue, it’s not gonna pop like it should.” It’s a sign of the times when a man can suddenly be declared ‘Instagram famous’ by the internet community but that sounds an awful lot to me like when you are announced to be an overnight success.

“Ha-yeah, I had been building my following before I started tattooing-I had a whole career as an artist before I picked up a machine, I already had something like 10,000 followers-so tattooing just gave it a di.erent life. Tattoos on Instagram work so well but what catapulted the whole thing was when Huffington Post did a feature on me and that had a domino effect into BuzzFeed – the next thing I know, two news stations turn up at the studio to interview me and it just went viral.”

What happened next goes some way to explaining why Dave can be a little di.cult to contact:
“It got nuts. I took all of my contact information down. I hardly answer direct messages anymore either unless something really catches my eye. People ask so many questions and I don’t want to spend all of my time answering things I’ve already answered twelve times already-I could but then there would be no time to actually do any work.” “Honestly, I went through the most intense period of anxiety when it blew. It fucked with my head quite a bit. The recognition is great because I’d been working hard you know, but I never asked for this avalanche. I didn’t want to be a hermit but I didn’t want.... well, the thing with tattooing, is it’s not like art where somebody comes along and says ‘Good job, we really like your art’-well, they do but the bit that comes after is ‘gimme, gimme, gimme’, and inevitably it’s stu. that’s really personal to them and you start to ask yourself if you can really do this for them and it’s emotionally draining. “So that’s why I only ever open my books up once in a while because I do take the time to read my messages. I have a hard time ignoring people-it takes conscious effort to do that for me. Some people are really good at it, but not me. If somebody mails me with an idea, I have to read it and think about it and the best way for me to deal with it, is to keep it as minimal as possible.” I once (or twice) went to the place where ‘they’ keep the switch. The one that you flick when you’ve just had enough of the noise of the internet-I ask him if that’s ever something he’s considered too:
“No. Not really. I go through periods where I take a step back and stop looking but I will look once every few days or so. I get a new message to do something every 15 minutes or so-24 hours a day. Nobody can keep that kind of diary. I have to use self control.

“I generally work up a design I want to do and ask if anybody wants it, but when it comes to custom work, I like to see that they know what the deal is. Some people will hand over a long brief with meaning and life stories but that leaves no breathing room, so a stripped down description that lets me work is the best. If you said ‘I want a ray gun’, I can do a million things with that. Or, ‘I want a wolf head with some trippy psychedelic shit going on’-I can do that too and we can make it look fucking awesome. But if you’re going to start telling me what colours you want and special requirements for its eyes, then you’ve lost me. There’s a ton of expectation that will never be met from my side working with a brief like that.”

In keeping with a train of thought I’ve been following recently, I take Dave down the road of ‘copying’. Some artists really don’t seem to mind but others, very much so. I think I know where this question will end:
“I’ve seen a few for sure. I go through an initial ‘fuck you dude’, but then I consider that the guy was obviously into doing something di.erent and I’ll mail them: ‘Don’t ever do this again’ and once I had a reply that went, ‘Sorry dude, I honestly didn’t think you would be upset!’-and from repeated versions of that, I figured out that some people genuinely don’t know that it’s wrong.

“The thing about it is, if it’s a custom tattoo done specifically for a client and they see that knock o., their own tattoo is going to feel less special, it devalues my work and if I don’t say something and get that copy at least taken down from the internet, it’s going to make other people think it’s OK.

“I also get people mail me asking me to draw them something so they can get it tattooed somewhere else. Again, that’s an education thing-you don’t want somebody else tattooing my work on you. It looks how it looks because I did it. The materials I use, the way my hand works, the way I pull lines makes my tattoos look the way they do and if somebody else does it, it won’t look like my work anymore. Why would you want a knock o. piece on your body for the rest of your life? “It’s 2017 man-we’re all saving up and waiting for good tattoos, right?” You’d like to think so. You really would...